The “New Normal” for Practicing Law in North Carolina During COVID-19
As we move into the second month of the COVID-19 pandemic, many attorneys and their clients are looking for guidance on how to adjust to the “new normal” while continuing to move cases forward. Recently, the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys (NCADA) and North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ) held a joint webinar to discuss the impact of the current pandemic on civil practice in North Carolina. The webinar covered a wide variety of relevant topics for attorneys and clients alike such as conducting effective remote depositions, participation in video mediations and the need for cooperation between the plaintiff and defense bars. The following are a few helpful tips from the presentation.
Current Supreme Court Orders: On April 2, 2020, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order postponing all court proceedings until June 1, 2020. All trials scheduled until June 8 have been postponed and will be rescheduled by the trial court administrators in each county. On April 13, 2020, Chief Justice Beasley issued a second order extending filing and other court-related deadlines to June 1, 2020. This Order covers pleadings, notices, motions and other documents due to be filed between now and June 1.
Discovery: Attorneys from both the plaintiff and defense bars have expressed concerns over responding to discovery, particularly regarding the production of documents. The plaintiff’s bar recognizes that corporate defendants may have limited or no access to their offices, making collection, review and production of documents through discovery extremely difficult. Likewise, the defense bar recognizes that plaintiffs may experience a greater delay in obtaining medical records due to the current health crisis. All parties are encouraged to remain flexible when these issues arise and, to the extent possible, keep a written record of the impact of access on their ability to respond to discovery.
Remote Depositions: Many court reporting services are offering remote video depositions to accommodate for the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders currently in effect across the country. Unfortunately, in North Carolina, the Notary Act requires that a court reporter be in the presence of a deponent in order to swear in that deponent. The North Carolina Secretary of State recently issued a statement confirming that court reporters are not permitted to remotely swear in deponents. Judge Paul Ridgeway, Wake County Resident Superior Court Judge, has recommended that parties file a Stipulation or Consent Motion clarifying that parties agree to allow deponents to sign a sworn statement under penalty of perjury in lieu taking a verbal oath. Teague Campbell has prepared Stipulations that address this issue and are prepared to utilize the declarations to allow for ongoing discovery in all cases.
Video Mediations: Both the plaintiff and defense bars addressed the need for parties to be flexible in permitting mediation conferences to move forward, either telephonically or by video conference. Utilizing a video conference service such as Zoom or WebEx allows plaintiffs and carriers to continue to meaningfully engage in the mediation process, wherever they are located. These services can accommodate the use of power point presentations, graphic exhibits and virtual “break-out rooms.” The attorneys at Teague Campbell have held a number of video mediations over the past several weeks and are comfortable using this technology to continue to resolve cases.
Motions Hearings: North Carolina Courts are encouraging attorneys to schedule as many telephonic or video hearings as possible over the coming weeks. Wake County has been leading the state courts in their response to the current pandemic. The Wake County Trial Court Administrator emphasized that North Carolina Courts have the ability and capacity to hold a large number of remote hearings while in-person proceedings are postponed, and she urged parties in all counties to take advantage of this time. Examples of proceedings that can be conducted remotely include minor settlements, motions concerning discovery disputes and, in some cases, dispositive motions such as motions for summary judgment.
Ultimately, attorneys across the State have been encouraged to work collaboratively to overcome any new, unforeseen challenges presented by COVID-19. Professional courtesy and civility have perhaps never been as important as they are now. If parties can agree to maintain open communication on these issues and develop clear, reasonable guidelines that fit the needs of their specific cases, we can ensure that our cases are moving forward and our clients are being well-served during this difficult and unprecedented time.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact one of our litigation attorneys.
This update provides general information and does not provide tailored legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship.